What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the small spaces in between your spine which puts pressure on the nerves that travel through the spinal cord. When it occurs in the lower part of the spine, it’s known as lumbar spinal stenosis, however, when it occurs in the upper part of the spine it is called cervical spinal stenosis. These two parts of the back are the most commonly affected areas.
Spinal stenosis usually occurs gradually due to aging, however, it can also be caused by deformities of the bones and tissues located around the spine. Normally, it starts affecting people over 50 years old, but it can also be present in young people who have experienced some kind of spinal trauma in the past.
The severity of spinal stenosis can vary greatly depending on how intense the pain is. It usually correlates with the number of meters a person can walk without suffering pain. This means that if a person can walk below 200 meters before suffering pain, then it is considered serious, but if it’s below 50 meters, then it is considered very serious.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
Usually, in the early stages, the condition is not symptomatic, especially if it isn’t compressing any of the nerves, however, with time symptoms gradually get worse. These symptoms vary according to the location of the stenosis and which nerves are being affected. A patient may experience the following symptoms:
- Tingling sensation in limbs
- Burning sensation
Spinal stenosis in the neck produces these symptoms in the arms, however, if it’s present in the lower back then symptoms may appear in the buttocks and legs. The most common feature in lower back stenosis is the increased severity of symptoms when walking.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
The first step to diagnose this condition is to perform a complete medical history review and perform a physical evaluation of the patient. In addition, physical and neurological examinations should be carried out.
An X-ray, MRI and CT scan will allow a doctor to measure any damage to your disks and ligaments, reveal any bone changes and also detect any presence of tumours.
What are the causes of spinal stenosis?
The most common cause of spinal stenosis is due to degenerative processes as your body ages. Tissues in your body get thicker, whilst bones also start getting bigger. Both of these can put pressure on the nerves in your spine. The following are other conditions that can cause spinal stenosis:
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Defects at birth
- Herniated disks
- Paget’s disease
- Bone tumours
- Achodroplasis (growth disorder of the bones)
Can it be prevented?
The prevention of canal stenosis is fundamentally based on avoiding risk factors, such as:
- Repeated trauma
- Bad posture
Spinal stenosis due to aging cannot be prevented but the risk can be reduced by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and practicing good posture.
What is the treatment?
The treatment of spinal stenosis varies depending on the affected region and severity. Usually, the first line of treatment is based on the use of medications, such as anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids to reduce pain and inflammation, combined with rest and physiotherapy sessions.
As it’s a degenerative condition, spinal stenosis can get worse over time, so it is necessary to control it by slowing down the progression of the disease. This can be done by performing exercises focused on strengthening the spinal muscles to reduce symptoms and avoid more aggressive forms of treatment.
In more severe cases, medications may be prescribed to reduce spinal pain. Surgical treatment is only recommended in cases where nerve compression is progressively aggravated. The operation seeks to relieve the pressure of the nerves in the lower part of the spine.
What specialist treats spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is typically treated by a neurologist.